The thoughts behind the anger.
Posted on Jan 12, 2018 by Richard
It's probably safe to say that many of us have got angry over the past year. Most of us will also admit that it is not a feeling we are very comfortable with. We can all readily pinpoint the source for the anger when questioned. Can we be sure this is the true motivation behind the anger?
Anger can be an unhealthy emotion to a negative event or occurrence in our lives. It is one of the emotions that can arise at times when our mind feels the need to defend itself from uncomfortable thoughts.
Our minds defend themselves by developing what are known as defence mechanisms, which enable us to cope with these unpleasant and uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and behaviours. These defence mechanisms operate at an unconscious level. The thoughts that trigger the defence mechanisms can also trigger a number of emotions, such as anxiety, guilt, shame, jealousy and, most importantly for this article, anger.
There are a number of different defence mechanisms the mind can employ. I will provide a brief explanation of two of the most predominant ones associated with anger.
Displacement is a very common defence mechanism associated with anger. It is defined as the redirecting of thoughts, feelings and impulses directed towards one person or object, but taken out upon another person or object. People will often use displacement when they feel they cannot safely or comfortably direct their feelings to the person or object that they believe is responsible for them. Instead they direct them to another person or object that they know will take them. The classic example is the person that is told off by their boss and then comes home and either kicks the dog or takes it out on the kids or partner. They don't feel comfortable or confident enough to turn around and have a go at their boss. Instead they bottle up the frustration and anger that comes from the confrontation and take it home and direct it towards someone or something that they know will take it. This might allow them to release the build up of anger, but the angry feelings are still there as the thoughts behind the anger have not been dealt with. The person then has the unpleasant task of trying to rebuild relationships that may have been damaged by the anger.
Projection involves individuals attributing their own undesired thoughts, feelings and motives to another person, who doesn't share these thoughts, feelings and motives. The thoughts a person holds will be unhealthy and uncomfortable, often threatening the person with other negative feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt etc. These thoughts and emotions can be too much for a person to hold on to and so they rid themselves of them by projecting them onto another person.
An example of this could be a person who feels shame or guilt from a perceived failure, who will then project this onto another by claiming they are a failure. This is often done through aggression or angry outbursts. They will tell the other person that they are a failure, thereby projecting their own feelings of being a failure onto the other person. In this way, they are temporarily alleviating the discomfort of their own thoughts and feelings of failure by trying to get other people to own them. Very often, this is a way of punishing others for their sense of failure, and represents how they have been secretly or unconsciously punishing themselves.
Another example of Projection can be seen in bullying behaviour. A person may attack another person for the way they look or behave, when in actual fact they are projecting their own disappointment with their own body image or behaviour onto their victim. This can often be seen on social media where a person will notice traits or features in another person that they associate as negative in themselves. The shame or guilt that this generates is too uncomfortable for them to contain, so they project this onto the other person, often in an angry outburst. The aim here is to try and get the other innocent party to own these feelings of guilt or shame, thus relieving the persecutor from temporarily owning them.
Defence mechanisms can provide a very temporary form of relief, but they do not address the unhealthy belief that is behind the thoughts that our mind feels the need to protect against. The damage from the unhealthy emotions, such as anger, will continue to take place until the unhealthy beliefs and resulting thoughts are changed. The foundations behind the anger can often be found in the following three areas:
- Self or another transgresses a personal rule
- A threat to our self-esteem
The thoughts fueling the anger can often be seen in the following:
- Overestimating the extent to which another person acted deliberately.
- Only seeing malicious intent in the motives of others.
- Seeing oneself as definitely right; the other person as definitely wrong.
- Unable to see the other's point of view.
- Plotting revenge.
When we use this type of thinking we are thinking in a very rigid way. This robs us of the flexibility required to think clearly and sensibly in order to find a solution to the problem that is upsetting. Behind the rigid thinking is often a demand that we are placing that needs to be met. This may be that "others should do things our way", "they should know that we are right and they are wrong", or, "people should respect me", for example.
Unfortunately the world does not run the way we think it should. When we demand it should, as in the above examples, we are effectively demanding that reality should not be reality, but rather our version of it. This sounds crazy, and it is. It is this kind of irrational thinking that is very often behind defence mechanisms such as Projection and Displacement and the unhealthy emotions they generate, such as anger, guilt, jealousy and shame etc.
Counselling can help to uncover the unhealthy beliefs and provide the tools needed to replace these unhealthy beliefs with healthier versions. This can help a person to manage their emotions in a healthier way and avoid dropping into unhealthy emotions, such as anger.
Contact A Space for Me today and let us help you to manage you anger and avoid the damage it can do to you and others around you.